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Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by Will Patton)

February 13, 2014 3 comments

Red-tinged image of a face with the author's name and title in smoke-like white letters over the top.Summary:
Danny Torrance didn’t die in the Overlook Hotel but what happened there haunts him to this day.  Not as much as the shining does though.  His special mental powers that allow him to see the supernatural and read thoughts lead to him seeing some pretty nasty things, even after escaping the Overlook.  He soon turns to drinking to escape the terror.  But drinking solves nothing and just makes things worse.  When he sees his childhood imaginary friend, Tony, in a small New Hampshire town, he turns to AA to try to turn his life around and learn to live with the shining.

Abra is a middle school girl nearby in New Hampshire with a powerful shine.  She sees the murder of a little boy by a band of folks calling themselves the True Knot.  They travel in campers and mobile homes, seeking out those who have the shine to kill them for it and inhale it.  They call it steam.  They’re not human. And they’re coming after Abra.  Abra calls out to the only person she knows with a shine too, the man she’s talked to before by writing on his blackboard.  Dan.

Review:
A sequel that takes the original entry’s theme on overcoming your family origin and ramps it up a notch, Doctor Sleep eloquently explores how our family origin, genetics, and past make us who we are today.  All set against a gradually ramping up race against the clock to save a little girl from a band of murdering travelers.

The book begins with a brief visit to Danny as a kid who learns that the supernatural creatures exist in places other than the Overlook, and they are attracted to the shine.  This lets the reader first get reacquainted with Danny as a child and also establishes that the supernatural are a potential problem everywhere.  The book then jumps aggressively forward to Danny as a 20-something with a bad drinking problem.  It’s an incredibly gritty series of scenes, and it works perfectly to make Dan a well-rounded character, instead of a perfect hero of the shine.  It also reestablishes the theme from The Shining that someone isn’t a bad person just because they have flaws–whether nature or nurture-based.  That theme would have been undone if Dan had turned out to be an ideal adult.  It would be much easier to demonize his father and grandfather in that case, but with the way King has written Dan, it’s impossible to do that.

The way Dan overcomes both his drinking and his temper, as well as how he learns to deal with his shine, is he joins Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  In contrast to his father who tried to quit drinking on his own, Dan attempts it in a group with accountability.  This then shows how much easier it is to overcome a mental illness with community support.  I appreciated seeing this.  I will say, however, that some of the AA talk in the book can get a bit heavy-handed.  Some chapter beginnings include quotes from the book of AA, and Dan can sometimes seem a bit obsessed with it when he relates almost everything to something he learned or heard there.  AA definitely plays a vital role in many people’s recovery from addiction, and it’s wonderful to see that in a work of fiction.  However, it would have been better for the reader to see the role of AA more than to hear quotes from AA so often.

The big bad in this book is a band of supernatural creatures who were once human and still look human.  But they change somehow by taking steam and go on to live almost indefinitely.  They can die from stupid accidents and sometimes randomly drop dead.  The steam is acquired by torturing children who have the shine.  The shine comes out of their bodies as steam when they are in pain.  They call themselves The True Knot.  This troop is a cartoonish group of evil people who try to look like a troop of retirees and some of their family traveling in a camper caravan.  The leader of this group is Rose the Hat–a redheaded woman who wears a top hat at an impossibly jaunty angle.  I was pleased to see Rose written quite clearly as a bisexual.  Her sexuality is just an aspect of who she is, just like her red hair.  Seeing a bi person as the big bad was a delight.  Her bisexuality isn’t demonized. Her actions as a child killer and eater of steam are.  She is a monster because of her choices, not because of who she is.   I alternated between finding The True Knot frightening and too ridiculously cartoonish to be scary.  I do think that was partially the point, though.  You can’t discredit people who seem ridiculous as being harmless.

How Abra is found by The True Knot, and how she in turn finds Dan, makes sense within the world King has created.  It doesn’t come until later in the book, though.  There is quite a bit of backstory and build-up to get through first.  The buildup is honestly so entertaining that it really didn’t hit me until after I finished the book how long it actually took to get to the main conflict.  So it definitely works.  Abra is a well-written middle school girl.  King clearly did his research into what it’s like to be a middle schooler in today’s world.  Additionally, the fact that Abra is so much older than Danny was in The Shining means it’s much easier for the reader to understand how the shine works and see a child, who understands at least a bit what it is, grapple with it.  This made Abra, although she is a child with a shine, a different experience for the reader who already met one child with a shine in the previous book.  Abra is also a well-rounded character with just the right amount of flaws and talent.

There is one reveal later in the book in relation to Abra that made me cringe a bit, since it felt a bit cliche.  It takes a bit of a leap of faith to believe, and I must admit it made me roll my eyes a bit.  However, it is minor enough in the context of the overall story that it didn’t ruin my experience with the book.  I just wish a less cliche choice had been made.

The audiobook narrator, Will Patton, does a phenomenal job.  It was truly the best audiobook narration I’ve heard yet.  Every single character in a very large cast has a completely different voice and style.  I never once got lost in who was speaking or what was going on.  More importantly to me, as a New England girl born and raised, is that he perfectly executes the wide range of New England accents present in the book.  Particularly when he narrates the character, Billy, I thought I was hearing one of my older neighbors speak.  I could listen to Will Patton read a grocery list and be entertained.  Absolutely get the audiobook if you can.

Overall, this sequel to The Shining successfully explores both what happened to Danny Torrance when he grew up and a different set of frightening supernatural circumstances for a new child with the shine.  This time a girl.  The themes of nature, nurture, your past, and overcoming them are all eloquently explored.  There is a surprising amount of content about AA in the book.  It could either inspire or annoy the reader, depending on their mind-set.  Any GLBTQ readers looking for a bi big bad should definitely pick it up, as Rose the Hat is all that and more.  Recommended to fans of Stephen King and those that enjoy a fantastical thriller drenched in Americana.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
The Shining, review

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Book Review: Shadrach in the Furnace by Robert Silverberg (Audiobook narrated by Paul Boehmer)

Silhouette of man standing in front of what appears to be an oil rig.Summary:
After a giant volcanic eruption led to chaos and the virus wars, the world came under a one world government led by Genghis Mao based out of Mongolia.  The virus wars also led to everyone being infected with organ rot, a condition that simply spontaneously starts whenever it feels like it.  Only those working close to the government get the antidote.  Shadrach Mordecai, an African-American, went straight from Harvard Med to being the personal doctor for the world dictator.  He has implants that allow him to monitor Genghis Mao’s health through his own body, plus he is overseeing the three projects pursuing a way to keep Mao alive forever.  But when Project Avatar, which would involve implanting Mao’s brain into a new body, loses its prime candidate, Shadrach realizes his position as aid to Mao might not be keeping him as safe as her previously believed.

Review:
One of my all-time favorite books, The World Inside (review), is by Robert Silverberg, so I decided I should start working on reading all of his writings.  So when I saw this Silverberg book on Audible, I immediately knew where my June membership credit would be going.

There are quite a few things that make this piece of scifi stick out.  First, out of the four main characters, three are people of color.  Shadrach is black, Mao is obviously Mongolian, the head of Project Avatar is Native American (Navajo, I believe), and the head of the project seeking to put Mao into a robot body is headed by a white European woman.  It’s an incredibly diverse cast that I really enjoyed.  Plus, Shadrach gets it on with both Nikki Crowfoot and Katya (Native and European, respectively).  There’s also the fascinating fact that Mao, who previously only wanted a Mongolian body, is totally into the idea of putting his brain into the body of strong, young black man.  You could read this one of two ways: either as a scifi slave narrative (Mao owning Shadrach’s body) or as a progressive future where skintone doesn’t matter but the leaders still manage to be totally evil.

The scifi in the book is incredibly strong.  Silverberg obviously did his brain and infectious diseases research.  It was akin to reading abstracts from medical journals when Shadrach was talking about the various medical things going on with Mao’s body and with organ rot in the general population.

Religion is dealt with in an interesting manner.  Most people seem to be more religious.  Even the “secular” government workers follow the new religion, whose name I can’t remember I’m afraid, that involves monks and taking hallucinatory drugs.  It’s obviously an idea of a futuristic religion born out of the 1970s in which it was written, but it works within the imaginary future it exists within.

Central to the novel is Shadrach’s struggle with the Hippocratic Oath.  He is sworn to repeatedly save the life of an evil dictator who is willfully withholding an antidote to organ rot from the general population.  It’s obviously an intense moral dilemma and the scifi setting helps the reader look at it with less emotion than if, say, we were talking about a modern setting wherein Shadrach was working for a neo-Nazi or something.

One thing that does date the book is that Silverberg made the choice of giving an exact year for when all of this is going down, and that year is 2012.  I did find it an odd bit of serendipity that I just so happened to pick up this book in 2012.  In a sense, then, for the modern reader it’s more like reading an alternate history.  What *would* have happened if a huge natural disaster had occurred in the 1990s?  Whereas in a book like 1984, it’s still the same book for modern readers as for the original readers (you just ignore the date), here the date actually has an impact on the reading of the story.  The reading is different now than it probably was for people in the 1970s, but it still works.  Just in a different way.

I did feel the pacing is a bit off in the book.  It’s a bit up and down.  There were a couple of moments earlier in the story that had the intensity level of almost a climax, whereas the climax feels….less climaxy.  It took some of the tension out for me, even though I was pleased with the ultimate ending.  This did make it ideal for an audiobook, though, since it was easier to come and go from it as I had time to listen.  Related to the pacing issue, although most of the book is third person Shadrach’s perspective, there are a few chapters that are first person Mao’s perspective.  Those threw me a bit.  I’m still not sure how I felt about them.  I honestly think it would take a second read in print to get a real vibe for that dynamic.

Speaking of the audiobook, the narrator, Paul Boehmer, does a phenomenal job.  He gets many different accents spot on without ever seeming to be racist.  He also does a great job differentiating between who is speaking and thinking and what have you.  He also did an admirable job narrating the sex scenes.  The tonality of his voice is spot on for the intimacy and excitement.  I would gladly listen to another book he’s narrated.

Overall then this is an interesting piece of scifi that was originally written as futuristic and now reads as alternate history.  It features a diverse, three-dimensional cast and provides a great setting for the moral dilemma of helping those who would harm others.  I recommend it to fans of scifi that addresses moral issues.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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